CAPE TOWN - The Stormers’ win over the Chiefs in the early rounds of Super Rugby last year was quite possibly their performance of the season. In fact, I don’t think it’d be too far-fetched to say they are yet to emulate the class of that outing, although they’ve looked good at certain stages since.
But there is one big difference between the Stormers’ entrance into this game against the Kiwis compared to last season - they were conference leaders and undefeated, while this season has been much tougher.
So, as the Stormers prepare for the clash at Newlands after winning their five home matches and losing all six away, here are seven things the Stormers need to do to outplay the Chiefs again and keep their play-off chances afloat.
Outscore them in tries
You’re never going to beat the Kiwis by going for posts the whole time, and in the build-up to last year’s fixture, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck made it clear he knows that all too well. The Stormers mentor said they’d go into the match to win it by tries, and they did. The home team scored four to the Chiefs’ three, and what made the feat even more impressive was that the Chiefs had only leaked six tries in their previous five encounters before they traveled to Cape Town.
Aiming to beat any New Zealand sides through penalties is probably not going to get you very far, and just like building scoreboard pressure though five points rather than three was the objective in that round-robin spectacle, it should again be the case this time around.
Attack, and don’t back down
The way the Stormers fought fire with fire against then-coach Dave Rennie’s team was impressive, and it worked. It seemed the perfect end-product of Fleck’s expansive goal, and while they obviously have to assess the on-field situations, the Stormers shouldn’t deviate from that goal and become more conservative, regardless of how much pressure there is going into this game and how that pressure builds when the whistle signals kick-off. After all, they’ve shown how they can play. So just play.
Remember those stunning passes and beautiful offloads, running lines and interplay that rivaled the Chiefs’ pop passes, basketball-like throws and out-of-nowhere offloads as well as their running game? Well, there you have it. It can be done.
Watch that space behind you
The Chiefs know how to use attacking kicks to get in behind their opposition’s defence, and they don’t need to be briefed on how to exploit that space once they get there. There was quite a bit of that in the form of grubbers and chip kicks the last time they met, especially early on, and it’s again going to be something to look out for. And what a treat would it be if one or two of the Stormers’ very-capable backs can scoop that up and serve one of the bosses of counter-attack some of their own medicine?
More of that Bulls defence
To erase any confusion, the Stormers need to execute more of that solid defence they kept the Bulls in check with at the weekend, not replicate the Bulls’ defence.
They did well to keep a try-line hungry Bulls side out of their in-goal area with impressive defence in the classic derby in front of 30 000-plus fans in Cape Town, and aiming to copy and paste the defensive work they produced against the Chiefs when they beat them 34-26 wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
In that game, the Stormers’ defence was nothing short of fantastic as they succeeded in keeping out a side desperate for a losing bonus point and were relentless in their pursuit thereof in the last minutes.
Continue the physical dominance
Whether it’s at the breakdowns, the scrums or the collisions, the Stormers’ display against the Bulls should boost their confidence going into those departments against the Chiefs. Their work in all of those areas was packed with intent, and it should be no less on Saturday.
Keep the composure
Whether it’s dealing with the Chiefs’ line speed, using their target of cracking the top eight spots as fuel or motivation rather than error-ridden desperation, or just staying focused in general no matter what happens in the game, the Stormers can’t lose focus and composure this weekend.
The Chiefs won’t need a personalised invitation to pounce on any opportunity. Besides, the Stormers managed to keep their cool last year, despite the score changing four times in the first half.
Go the full 80
Just like the Stormers performed for 80 minutes against the Bulls, they need to do the same if they want to be the Big Chiefs of Newlands.